I grew up extremely curious but cautious.
I did not have very many places to really see or experience native culture, or at least First Nations culture on the prairies. A lot of the art and experiences in Victoria was from the West Coast and much of it was meant for tourism and education.
Like a lot of people, I saw the older depiction of native culture in movies and pictures. The headdresses, masks and art were full of wonder and beauty but I definitely never saw anything like the real deal in my youth.
Prairie First Nations culture felt inaccessible to me. And, for the longest time, despite the best efforts of my parents, I did not even know the roots of my cultural heritage. Was I Blackfoot, Piegan, Blood or something else? Turned out I am Cree/Sioux, a surprise to all of my adopted family!
When I visited Kawacatoose, my home reserve, it took a long time for it to sink in that this is where I am from. Me, Caleb Mark Howard, lost boy, finally found out where he came from.
I sat in a beautiful ceremony while I was home. I sat with my relatives in prayer and I heard them sing beautiful songs. And I heard their struggles. When I spoke I did my best to honestly represent myself but the beauty of what I have been given hardly sank in.
During my whole life I struggled with feeling like I needed to know where I came from. Finally, I found out.
I didn’t sing when I was there. I didn’t know any Native American Church songs then. I was shy and kept mostly to myself.
When I go home this time my goal is to really talk to people. I want to sing as beautifully as I can, help out, hangout and share some time with my family.
I want to try and be a little bit better. I want to try to be OK.
It is not always that easy though.
When I was in Saskatchewan before I was aware that when I was at a family dinner I didn’t talk much. I just tried to be polite. All of this was new to me.
It is a different culture and it is super beautiful, far removed from much of my life.
I’m used to living in a jail cell. I’m used to not staying in the same place longer than two weeks. I’m used to always running.
I want this though. People don’t know how much I really do. I’m a good guy. I am. I am a good person but I do have issues.
But I truly believe with all my heart that the answer for me is within the fire circle of a ceremony. Through prayer, meditation and the healing power of medicine and the teachings I will be OK.
I’m OK right now. I feel amazing. I’m excited and I’m healthy and I feel clear headed.
I’m also lonely, a little tired and a little bit scared but I feel super strong right now as well. I feel supported. I feel like I’m making the right choices and I’m acting in a good way.
And it is good. It is a good thing. I’m reaching for a good thing.
The art and culture of my people is sacred. The tools and instruments we use to pray are held in such a humble and respectful way it makes me proud to be native.